Thursday, 26 November 2009

The Swan, Lavenham, Suffolk

A few weeks ago I got a text from our friends asking if we were free on the 19th November as they were getting married What? in 3 weeks? Blimey. I must admit, congratulations weren't the first thing on my mind, but more selfishly, was I going to be able to find a new frock in that time?

Seriously it was great news and made even better because the wedding was going to be held at The Swan in Lavenham. Both The Swan and the village of Lavenham are lovely places. The last time were in Lavenham we stayed in a cottage for a long weekend for Tiny's birthday and had a wonderful time.

On the day we drove up it was a lovely crisp sunny day. We arranged to meet a couple of friends in The Angel for lunch as the wedding wasn't until 3.30. I opted out of eating as I was conscious that I was going to have to be shoe-horned into my 'control tights' in an hour or so and therefore thought it best to abstain. The others tucked in though to sausages & mash, home cooked thickly sliced ham sandwiches and sausage, chorizo & bean stew - sorry no photos.

Then it was off to The Swan (all of 100yds away) to book in and begin getting ready. The Swan dates back to the 15th century and is a wonderful building, full of oak beams and inglenook fireplaces and is beautifully furnished.

Our room was very comfortable and had a huge bed - it was almost wider than I am tall. It's always a relief when we get to a hotel room and find that we have a king sized bed, because if it's a standard double Tiny's feet hang out of the bottom and get cold.

Having scoffed one of the packets of complimentary biscuits between us (choc chip cookies if you're interested) we started getting changed. We both had new outfits and if I say so myself, we had scrubbed up rather well.

The ceremony, although quite short, was lovely. There were only 30 of us which made it rather cosy and intimate.

After the photos we made our way to the lounge, where seated on comfy sofas and with a log fire blazing, giving a lovely glow to the room and the guest's faces, we enjoyed champagne and canapes, which was rather civilised.

After quite a while of quaffing, nibbling and mingling we were beckoned through to dine. The room was bathed in candle light and the tables looked beautiful.

The meal was excellent. We started with chicken and roasted pepper terrine, which was moist, well seasoned and very tasty.

The main course of roasted rump of lamb, ratatouille and dauphinoise potato was equally as good. The lamb was tender and cooked to perfection and the dauphinoise was creamy, garlicky and unctuous and the ratatouille still had texture and wasn't too tomatoey.

The meal was rounded off with a lemon tart and raspberry sorbet which I didn't feel belonged together. Having said that, they were both extremely good. Lovely crisp pastry on the tart and the sorbet was bursting with flavour and not overly sweet.

After more drinks and some witty and touching speeches we relaxed over coffee in the lounge. Feeling very full, slightly squiffed and happy we weebled up to bed having had a lovely afternoon and evening.

I thoroughly recommend the Swan. The food, the rooms and the attentiveness of the staff made the occasion very special.

Just one thing though, if you're tall you might find the hotel a little challenging - as Tiny did.
The reason the photo is blurred is because I was laughing.

The Swan Hotel
CO10 9QA

Friday, 20 November 2009

The Crown Prince and the naked pumpkin

I think of the seasons in terms of food. I love Autumn because it's the time of year for my favourite foods: casseroles, stews, pot roasts, root veg and hearty soups. Comfort food I suppose. To me it's the mash & gravy season.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I am extremely lucky to be on the receiving end of my sister's hard work on her allotment. During the Summer we had no end of goodies. And now Autumn is here I've been taking delivery of leeks, parsnips, onions and some smashing pumpkins (weren't they a band in the 90s?)

These plump beauties are a variety called Crown Prince. Their extremely tough, light grey exterior, is such a contrast to their bright orange flesh. They're fantastic just roasted with a little oil and butter, salt and pepper and served as a veg accompaniment, but they make the most wonderful soup. It's like you've liquidised an orange velvet cushion. It's so silky, warm and comforting. The recipe I use is from a very old Covent Garden Soup cook book, which my sister bought for me years ago. (Recipe below)

The other variety that she's been growing is a 'naked seed' variety. Now, a naked seed pumpkin means that the seeds lack the slightly tough husk that other pumpkins have, therefore they're much nicer to eat.

This gnarly 'naked' brute is a variety called Lady Godiva (great name eh?) It really is only good for its seeds as the flesh is quite tasteless.

And here they are. Aren't they gorgeous? Silky, pearly little critters - like little legless green beetles.

Once they're out of the pumpkin you just dry them off and roast them. You can obviously leave it there, but after roasting I ground up some celery seed, rock salt black pepper and chilli and mixed it into the seeds. They were delicious on top of the soup, but they are great to just nibble (terribly healthy)

One of the baby pumpkins still in the nursery aaaaah.

Some of the older ones having a little go on the trampoline

Pumpkin Soup

25g (1oz) butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
200g (7oz) potatoes, peeled and chopped
900g (2lb) pumpkin, diced
250g (9oz) carrots, diced
1.2l (2 pints) vegetable stock
150ml (1/4 pint) milk
demerera sugar to taste
finely grated nutmeg to taste
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Melt the butter and cook the onion gently for 5 minutes in a covered saucepan, without colouring. Add the potato, 700g (1 1/2 lb) of the pumpkin, the carrots and the vegetable stock. Cover, bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 20 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Cool a little, then puree in a liquidiser. Return to a clean saucepan and stir in the milk. Meanwhile, add the remaining pumpkin to a saucepan of boiling salted water and cook for 2 minutes. Drain and add to the pureed soup. Add the sugar, nutmeg and seasoning to taste.